An interactionist perspective on the development of coordinated social attention

Stefanie Hoehl, Bennett I. Bertenthal

Infants' ability to coordinate their attention with other people develops profoundly across the first year of life. Mainly based on experimental research focusing on infants' behavior under highly controlled conditions, developmental milestones were identified and explained in the past by prominent theories in terms of the onset of specific cognitive skills. In contrast to this approach, recent longitudinal research challenges this perspective with findings suggesting that social attention develops continuously with a gradual refinement of skills. Informed by these findings, we argue for an interactionist and dynamical systems view that bases observable advances in infant social attention skills on increasingly fine-tuned mutual adjustments in the caregiver-infant dyad, resulting in gradually improving mutual prediction. We present evidence for this view from recent studies leveraging new technologies which afford the opportunity to dynamically track social interactions in real-time. These new technically-sophisticated studies offer unprecedented insights into the dynamic processes of infant-caregiver social attention. It is now possible to track in much greater detail fluctuations over time with regard to object-directed attention as well as social attention and how these processes relate to one another. Encouraged by these initial results and new insights from this interactionist developmental social neuroscience approach, we conclude with a “call to action” in which we advocate for more ecologically valid paradigms for studying social attention as a dynamic and bi-directional process.

Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology
External organisation(s)
Indiana University Bloomington
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501005 Developmental psychology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health, Developmental and Educational Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience
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